Nigerian Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka has heavily criticised the BBC 2 documentary series Welcome to Lagos as "colonialist", "patronising" and grossly distorted films about his country. Fellow countryman Fidelis Onyedikam disagrees.
One thing good about Nigeria is the abundance of jolly good times no matter the weather, economy and what the papers or BBC TV say.
Opportunity is in good supply. Unity in diversity manifests itself even more in the ghetto areas than in the corridors of power.
With the BBC’s reputation for portraying Africa, and Nigeria in particular, as impoverished not withstanding, its latest programme – Welcome to Lagos – did little to tarnish the image of the nation, rather it exposed what is lacking in the western world.
Nigeria may be suffering from decades of bad governance, but its people have resolutely survived over the years by the skin of their teeth. Remember the days of Obasanjor’s Operation Feed the Nation? Remember Shagari’s Austerity Measures? Remember the days when the military government took the poisonous International Monetary Fund loan with its conditionality that set off the national suffering based on Babangida’s Structural Adjustment Programme? Remember how the nation, especially the Ebo eastern Nigerians, who fought and lost their secessionist civil war? Remember, too, the fact that social democracy and the ‘New Jerusalem’ that existed in UK since the end of the Second World War had no place in old or new Nigeria?
The citizens of Nigeria emerged with one thing - the determination to survive. Thankfully, the oil-rich economy is picking up. Neither is there a major foreign loan hanging over the nation’s head nor is Nigeria’s economic rating graded as scrap like that of Greece. The real problem is that many poor people are turning to scrap to survive but governance is becoming more civilised.
Even the transition from the ailing President Umaru Yar’adua to an acting head of state Goodluck Jonathan happened in a civilised manner despite political differences opined by different groups. The kind of physical brawl that occurred in the Ukrainian parliament during the ratification of the presidential agreement between Kiev and Moscow over Sevastopol was long gone from Nigeria. If not for the colour of the pugilist MPs, one may easily think that the bust up was happening in the National Assembly in Abuja.
Some people who watched BBC 2’s Welcome to Lagos three-part documentary series may not have seen anything positive in it; rather western viewers may have had a spiteful laugh aimed at Africans. It zooms in on a handful of the 16 million people who live in the sprawling city. Bottom of the pile, literally, are the scavengers at the Olusosun rubbish dump, human vultures who pick through the stinking detritus with metal claws, looking for stuff that can be recycled and sold: tins, plastic, copper wire, rubber, clothes, anything.
In the dry season, fires often break out, adding toxic smoke and mortal danger to a day's work. Most people in the UK would not be able to survive a week in that environment, but the truth is that those slums have created millionaires whose tales may not be believed. Those earning their livelihood from the ghettos have forgiven the state for not doing enough to support them and have since moved on to prosper as if their lives had never been incredibly tough.
The products of these ghettos can be seen all over the world. Many worldwide have risen from grass to grace. The African markets in Europe have them. The people who grew up there and moved to the west where social support is in good supply easily improve their lives.
As the UK economy continues to deteriorate along side most western nations, and all mainstream politicians accept that public services must be cut to save money the population may well have to become more resourceful to make ends meet. When that happens benefits-starved people would do well to learn lessons from watching such programmes.
For instance, the man called Joseph Orji, who lives in one room with his wife and two children, was able to sustain his family without social help from the Nigerian government who provide no free NHS, schools, council flats, family credits, income support and so on, but they are happy.
Most of the enterprising people featured in the programme are graduates like the canny young man processing cattle blood for poultry feed. They work in areas with no health and safety provision. They basically look after each other and never give up.
Here in Britain and indeed Europe, government do everything for the people, yet the majority are not happy. They still want more and more. The government is bleeding to death because no one wants to put an extra penny, in the form of tax, to help it recover and carry on giving out welfare payments. The winner of the forthcoming British general election will be the party that promised less tax and more spending on the population.
It is amazing the kind of camaraderie that exists among the Nigerian ghetto workers. They do not conceal the fact that they are suffering hardship, but they have hope, they pray, and they do not moan. This is not to say that hardship is good for you. Many people whose governments supply every amenity still moan and lack piety in their daily activities. This is behind the moral and social decadence of many developed nations. Hopefully, the series will stay on BBC iPlayer forever.